Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Foolishness Genome

We may not be pleased with the outcome of a particular dramatic work but we would be even less pleased were the work not to have any outcome.  Thus in story, anything is better than nothing.  In fact, you could say that story is popular because it provides things reality does not always see fit to display.

You could take that line of logic a step farther by observing how, by definition, story must have an outcome.  No outcome, no story.  No outcome, you’re stuck with a tale, a vignette, a slice-of-life.

You—or anyone else—would be guilty of a fallacy in logic, aptly named the pathetic fallacy if you were to say that reality does not care if its events have outcomes or not.  The fallacy resides in the observation that reality is capable of caring about the events taking place all about us, whether they are observed events or not.  The tree falling in the forest may not matter because no one is there to hear it, but that is another fallacy.

After considering the fallacy of logic, you’ll use it anyway on the grounds that a writer who listens with too much care to convention is not much worth listening to; he or she is a mere copying machine rather than someone who provides a fresh vision that may in addition to its freshness be useful.

Reality may not care about outcomes, because it is not sufficiently invested in persons, only institutions such as disasters, droughts, universities, and perhaps elections. As a result, the likelihood is greater that there will be frequent gaps between outcomes in an individual’s life.  If you are going to use such individuals in your stories, you are well advised to write around the gaps or somehow convince the characters to take steps that will provide outcomes.

On the other hand, there is something attractive about a character who has grown tired or even better frustrated by the lack of available outcomes.  This is the sort of person who will want to take reality into her own hands, perhaps get it on some kind of regimen that will produce outcomes.

It appears to you that a major pattern was established back in eighteenth century literature, particularly in England, where stories were ending with marriage as an outcome.  In later years, outcomes developed because of marriage, the individuals having evolved in one way or another because of the potential crucible inherent in marriage.  There are, of course, crucibles in all situations where individuals are placed in close contact or where individuals in anticipation of close contacts discover that they are not close at all.

Individuals who are goal oriented seem to do best in reality and in story; they work toward a goal, achieve it or don’t, are happy with the goal or disappointed by its appearance.  This procession of events may work in reality, but something is lacking in the calculus if it is presented in story.  The stage is set for surprise, often, but not necessarily in the form of reversal.

Sometimes the outcome appears to have been forgotten, both in reality and story, but this, too, is a dramatic aspect, the digression or diversion as an enhancement from short form to longer form, from the short story to the novella or full-on novel, the one-act play on steroids, growing into a more developed narrative.

Your own reality time has been bent and twisted about by reversals, surprises, and digressions to the point where you are tempted to toss into the stew pot yet another ingredient, irony.  Your early plans were to make your way with short stories, perhaps working your way up to longform work, but the surprises began coming at you as though you were in story as opposed to reality, leading you to digressions, which piled upon themselves and you could not see yourself in story any longer, instead in reality, doing things that dealt with story in ways you had not foreseen.

Whether from despair and desperation or accident or luck or stubbornness or faith, all circumstances you’ve had as roommates, you have achieved a state of comfortable coexistence with outcomes you’d thought to have eluded you.  It would be as foolish of you now as it was foolish of you then in those days where you thought you could do it all with short stories to think that you no longer have to reach or learn or that, indeed, you have little left to reach for in the way of learning.  It accordingly behooves you to find
better ways to exercise your foolish genome.  Foolishness is a splendid outcome to achieve, but as the case remains with all the elements of the craft in which you hope to continue, that, too, must be practiced on a regular basis.

1 comment:

Storm Dweller said...

Foolishness is the humble beginnings of mischief, and mischief often begets a story and reality worthy outcome. but I suspect you already know this, having been at mischief making quite a bit longer than I.